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Buffalo lawmakers worry about ambulance response times

Complaints about ambulance response time in Buffalo continue to raise concern in City Hall.

In recent weeks, city lawmakers said:

• It took more than nine minutes for an ambulance to arrive after two police cars collided, flipping one onto its roof.

• It took over an hour for an ambulance to arrive when an infant with a 105-degree temperature needed a ride to the hospital.

• A Riverside High School football player waited an hour for an ambulance after breaking his leg.

“The kid is hurting, laying on the ground in agony. To have to wait 30, 40, 50 minutes is unconscionable,” said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

Council members expressed their frustration over ambulance response time at a Council meeting Tuesday, when Golombek also said police called for an ambulance while subduing a violent person Monday night, and were told they would have to wait because four of six ambulances were out of service.

A Rural/Metro Medical Services official expressed frustration over the Council’s criticisms, repeating previous comments that many people don’t seem to understand the triage system set up to ensure that the most serious, life-threatening calls in the city are handled before those that are not life-threatening and non-emergency.

“We have different parameters for different levels of emergencies and non-emergencies,” said Jay Smith, Rural/Metro regional director,

Smith said an ambulance arrived at the police car crash within nine minutes and 17 seconds of the call. The time, he said, was well within contractual response-time parameters for that type of call.

Smith said Rural/Metro could not discuss the case involving the infant because of privacy laws. However, Rural/Metro provided information indicating the call was considered a non-emergency transport “cold call,” and therefore emergency “hot calls” were handled first.

Smith said he couldn’t find any record of the other incidents mentioned by city lawmakers, but would reach out to police and to the Council for additional information.

The Council last month authorized the Brown administration to enter into a five-year contract with Rural/Metro, which remains the city’s exclusive ambulance provider. The new contract goes into effect Oct. 1.

The new contract requires Rural/Metro to put more ambulances in service – a minimum of 20 during peak hours and 10 in nonpeak, and up from 14 and seven, respectively. The new contract also spells out specific penalties for not meeting response-time provisions. Rural/Metro must arrive in less than nine minutes – at least 90 percent of the time – on the most serious life-threatening emergency calls, those needing advanced life support; and within 15 minutes on emergency calls not considered life-threatening.

In addition, the contract requires Rural/Metro to develop alternative transport and service options for non-emergency calls that require medical or mental health service, but do not warrant an ambulance transport.

Smith said Rural/Metro is in the process of gearing up to meet the new contract. The ambulance company currently has more ambulances assigned to Buffalo than it did a year ago, but it is not yet at the Oct. 1 levels.

“We’ve got a class of 12 that just started last week, and two big classes over the summer,” he said. “We still need to hire more. We are doing out best to get up to the new standards. It takes time to get there.”

But Common Council members appeared frustrated Tuesday that response time complaints continue.

The Council is asking representatives of Rural/Metro, the city’s police and fire departments and the city’s ambulance board to attend an Oct. 6 meeting to discuss the issue.

Rural/Metro, meanwhile, is also planning to set up its own meetings to help explain ambulance procedures under the new contract, Smith said.

“We plan on discussing the dynamics of the EMS industry and the new contract parameters with the Fire Department, the Police Department, the Council members, the media and the community because there still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about EMS service delivery,” he said.